A new dataset from the Crime Prevention Research Center compiles the demographic makeup of all mass public shooters in the United States since 1998, and the top-line results appear to contradict media stereotypes about the kind of people who use firearms to commit atrocities.
While mass murderers are majority white (57%) and male (96%), whites and Hispanics are underrepresented among mass murders compared to their share of the total American population. By contrast, those of Middle Eastern descent, Asians, blacks, and American Indians are all above their population shares.
In terms of religion, the vast majority of mass murderers are not religious or do not profess any particular religious faith. Christians comprise the largest religious group, but their share among mass murderers is far lower than their share of the larger American population. By contrast, Muslims and non-Christian religions are overrepresented compared to their share of the population.
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Politically speaking, most mass shooters do not divulge any political leanings. The next most common political affiliation is “Islamic extremism,” followed by indications that suggest right-leaning and left-leaning beliefs.
“Mass public shootings” is defined as those cases where four or more people are killed at one point in time in a public place and not involving some other type of crime such as a gang fight or a robbery.
Dr. John Lott, the researcher who compiled the data, believes these facts contradict the perception that mass murderers are all white supremacists.
“Entertainment television continually provides a false impression of those who commit mass public shootings and how they commit them,” Lott says on his website. “…another myth is that attacks are frequently by white supremacists. Yet, that is far from the case.”
It is somewhat unclear where Lott sees evidence for this statement. “White supremacist” is not a political affiliation, according to Lott’s data, and there have been at least two mass murderers who articulated white supremacist beliefs since 1998, Dylann Roof and Patrick Crusius.
In response to our inquiry, Lott pointed out that while “white supremacist” is not a political category, he did compile information about whether the suspect was a neo-Nazi or part of some similar group. They also noted whether the case might have been a hate crime in the “part of other crime” column of the spreadsheet.
Dylann Roof, for example, is listed as a “right-wing extremist,” Robert Bowers is listed as “anti-Jewish” and Patrick Crusius is listed as “anti-government.”
Still, for the vast majority of suspects, it is not known whether they held any beliefs that suggest sympathies with white supremacism.
The data set proves that, with the exception of gender, mass murderers are more diverse than the media and politicians would have Americans believe. White supremacists may garner the most media attention, but the data doesn’t appear to be robust enough to make many generalizations.
Click here to download the data and check it out yourself. Also, please consider supporting Dr. Lott and the Crime Prevention Research Center.